Thursday, 6 May 2010

Alex Ruiz Interview

Alex Ruiz started his career as a 2D animator, working on a little known cartoon sitcom called "The Simpsons," and, although being an animator is a highly sought after career, he felt like he wanted to change but wasn't sure of where to go and what to do.
On the side, he started to learn illustration and soon realised that he preferred creating still 2D images rather than moving ones. After watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the desire to become a concept artist was born and thats what he became. 

I think that his story is important to tell as it shows that you can take a big leap and drastically change your career path, even when some would say you should be happy with what you have. I admire that greatly. I also admire his work.

Blending abstract elements with surrealism, Alex Ruiz to me is one of the most prolific digital artists working today and it is with my distinct pleasure that I get to present this interview and 3 digital art tutorials originally created by Alex but reworked for this blog. They will be posted here in the coming weeks so stay tuned for those.

Dulcior Nocens Somnium - Alex Ruiz: "The Latin title means 'Pleasant Bad Dream,' in that if I were having this dream I'd be terrified as well as awed. Created in Photoshop and Corel Painter, taking way longer than it should have."

The Interview

Lloyd Harvey: Who or what, lead you to create the work you do? What was it that geared you towards the style you paint in?

Alex Ruiz: I’ve always been drawing since I was a child, so my interest in art was from early on in life. I always had encouragement and support from my family as well, and that definitely strengthened my desire to be an artist. I’d always believed that I would be a professional artist somehow; the drive was always there, even though I was clueless how to go about it.

As far as style goes, I've always been into surrealist art with Salvador Dali being my favourite artist from that genre. Though I never really got into traditional painting, I always wanted to try to emulate that in my digital work, so that it would be a hybrid of both.

So, what was it in early life that gave you the "Artist Bug?"

Well the passion to draw was always there, since birth really. I started drawing before I started walking, so it was always in me but I'd say the event that changed my life, or at least solidified a clear direction in art, was when I saw Disney’s Aladdin at age sixteen. When I saw that, I absolutely knew I wanted to be an animator, and specifically a Disney Animator! And though I never ended up at Disney, I was fortunate enough to have a career as an animator.

What personal symbolism do you forge into your art? Do you find that your nationality influences your work in anyway?

I like to put in symbols and motifs from cultures such as the Mayans and Maoris, mainly because of the beautiful design work. I wish I could say the symbols meant a great deal to me but, ultimately, the entire painting takes on a personal meaning, with the aid of the patterns of course.

Tree Man - Alex Ruiz: "I love the fall season, even though we don't get much of it here in L.A. Completed in 2 hours."

What really inspires you to be a creative person?

There are times when I lack motivation to such a degree, that I want to change careers! It’s such a subjective thing, because what motivates one person may discourage someone else. But I feel you need to have a good balance of both motivation and intimidation, to light a fire under your ass to keep moving. Obviously, things like paying the rent and eating are the number one motivators for anybody but aside from that, you need to do your passion as an artist, or whatever it is that interests you.

I have to say, nature itself inspires and motivates me to a large degree. I’ve heard countless times in my life, from a design standpoint, that there’s nothing we can create that nature hasn’t produced already. Only recently have I truly understood that. Well, to some small degree at least!

Libertas - Alex Ruiz: "Meaing Freedom in Latin. I try more and more to apply this to my concept work, trying to bend the rules. I wanted to depict this as being dark but whimsical."

Nature is a massive inspiration to so many artists, me included. How exactly does nature inspire you? What facets of the animal kingdom fascinate you the most? Do you study insects more, or do you constantly look at trees and go: "Whoa, that tree looks amazing," and people think you’re weird for it?

Ha ha, I do know how some people can look at us weird for being so observational! I guess I have to say that ALL nature inspires me, from microbes to supernovae and everything in between. I'll use those references in my work but sometimes reverse them, or use them unexpectedly.

For example, I like to use microscopic textures to convey outer space, grasshopper legs for science fiction machinery and Hubble images for particle effects. The more you mix and match these things, the more original an artist you'll become.

Station to Station - Alex Ruiz: "This started off as something totally different; different angle, different content. But it was lame! So that's when you destroy the image....flip it, skew it, burn it if you can! The point is, if you don't like your image, take a digital hammer and torch to it and make something new out of it."

You create most of your work in Photoshop and Corel Painter so imagine, if you can, that these two programs didn’t exist. Do you think you would be more of a traditional artist and use oils or acrylics? Or do you think you’d work in 3D modelling software instead? Or, would you be an artist at all?

Wow, great question! I think a lot of artists today take these programs for granted, myself included. These programs really are the foundation for all digital art created today so without them, I think I'd be in a ditch somewhere nursing a bottle of whiskey!

As said before, the passion to create is always there so I probably would be drawing and painting traditionally. The 3D thing would have seemed way too technical for me, so I'd like to think I'd be a decent oil painter.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting up some of your digital painting tutorials so that people can learn more about how you create the art you do and also so that people can learn some new techniques along the way. Have you ever considered creating a ‘how-to’ book or instructional DVD?

I have been asked a lot about doing that and I often reply: “Eh, the Gnomon guys have done it all!” All jokes aside, I do one day plan on making an instructional book...maybe one that comes with a DVD!

Until then I'll continue to post my tutorials and videos for free.

Questions Every Artist Gets Asked 

Orb Ganic World - Alex Ruiz: "A concept design for a computer game that was fun to do because I was able to play around with orb-like organic shapes."

What has been your career highlight to date?

I'd have to say being an animator on the Simpsons was probably the most fun and exciting time in my professional and personal life. A lot of us were young and stupid, but that was part of why it was so great! Looking back, it's been an honour to be a part of such a great show. I missed it so much, I'll be returning in June to assist direct on an episode.

What was your big break into the illustration industry?

You know, sometimes I feel I haven't truly 'broken in' yet. Although I do create concept art and illustration for a living, the freelance world can be a bitch sometimes. You're not really a part of a team, you work at home, you get lazy and you stare at your cat (the usual stuff). I do feel I've reached a goal though as I had set out to be a concept artist for games and eventually ended up doing just that for Activision.

What was the best piece of artistic advice you have received or can offer?

Keep drawing, and keep drawing!! There really is no secret; it's all about consistency and the acquiring of good instruction whether it's through teachers, books, DVDs, or all three if possible. There's an old saying that goes: "when you're not practicing, someone else is."

What do you think is the most effective way you market yourself and your work?

Obviously you need to post your work and let people know that it's out there. Using online art communities such as,, and, to name a few, are great places to start. But in the beginning, you have to be willing to do work for little pay or even for free.

It's the same old story everywhere: everyone's on a budget and trying to spend as little money as possible, especially for art! But in sacrificing your time and skill that way, you will build your connections, your reputation and eventually be able to ask for the money you deserve and get it.

Mech Dragon Battle - Alex Ruiz: "A Concept of a battle scene where the large creature  ended up unintentionally looking like a Chinese Parade Dragon (hence the title)." 

As an artist, what are the biggest challenges that you face?

Keeping a relationship going. Oh!! an artist?? Well, competition is probably the number one thing. There's probably always someone out there who's as good as you and will do it for cheaper! So you have to be willing to match the other guy in skill AND price. Other challenges can be more personal, like ones nasty ability of self-sabotaging. Eventually you have to turn off the television, get off Facebook, kick yourself in the ass and get the job done!

Alex Ruiz’s Random Set

Steampunk Train - Alex Ruiz: "A painting done for one of my classes, going over 2-point perspective, colour theory and incorporating photography."

What are your top 5, all time favourite albums?
OK Computer, Ziggy Stardust, Joshua Tree, And Justice For All and every Tom Waits album.

What makes you glad?

Sunny days. So being in LA everyday... then when the rain comes it's gladly welcomed.

What film do you wish you had originally directed?

The second and third Matrix films!

What is your least favourite smell?

The smell of fear.

If you were an animal for a day, what would you be?

Oh man, it's gotta be a monkey at the zoo....that way I can hurl shit at the audience and not get in trouble for it!

For more of Alex's work, go to his website.

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